Who Compiled the Psalms into the Psalter?
David was the man chosen by God to establish a “forever” kingdom. His dynasty (descendants) was uninterrupted from David to Jesus Christ, but the son who immediately followed David as king of Israel was Solomon. Nearly one thousand years before Jesus’ virgin birth in Bethlehem, the city of David, Solomon built the temple, the house of God, in Jerusalem. Twenty kings reigned in succession after David’s son Solomon, only eight of which were good kings who attempted to please the Lord. But from the days of Josiah the thirteenth king, everything went downhill. None of the kings who followed Josiah were followers of God.
The people of Judah put one of Josiah’s sons, Jehoahaz, on the throne. He lasted only three months. Pharaoh Neco replaced him with Jehoiakim, another son of Josiah, who reigned from 609 to 598 BC. But in 605 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon defeated Pharaoh Neco of Egypt, invaded Judah, heavily taxed the people, and took hostages. This is when the prophet Daniel and his friends were taken captive (Daniel 1:1). Jehoiakim revolted against Babylon and King Nebuchadnezzar came after him in 597 BC. Jehoiakim died before the Babylonians arrived. His son, Jehoiachin, became king, only ruling three months before the Babylonians forced him into exile. The prophet Ezekiel was among those taken into captivity at this time.
The Babylonians then installed Zedekiah, Josiah’s youngest son, as king. When Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar attacked Jerusalem and conquered it. The Babylonians destroyed the Jewish temple and to their capital at Babylon carried into captivity large numbers of Israel’s population. This 70-year Babylonian captivity is referred to as the “Exile.” }As a result of God’s goodness and grace, in exile the Jews turned their backs on the idolatry that brought them to Babylon and began to practice the worship of Yahweh once again. Fortunately, since they did not have a temple, priests, kings, or a homeland, the Jews made God’s Word the foundation of their worship, as it was in the days of Josiah (as it should be today).
In 559 BC, a Persian prince named Cyrus revolted against the dynasty controlling the Persian Empire and defeated it. According to the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1), Cyrus was anointed by God to release the nations held captive by the Babylonians. Cyrus became a world leader conquering much of what is today the Middle East. But he was also a cunning yet humane man. He knew that slaves from so many nations were essentially useless and allowing them to return home and rebuild their communities would become an important source of taxation. Cyrus made a decree that all the conquered peoples held captive in Babylon should return to their homeland (Ezra 1). The year was 539 BC. As a result, about 50,000 Jews went back to Judah (Ezra 2:64-65).
After the Exile, when the Jews returned home, the people rebuilt the temple, not quite as astounding as Solomon’s temple but quite functional. It was at this point that the poets and priests began to collect psalms into a corpus or grouping. They needed the psalms so they could sing and worship in the reconstructed temple. They weren’t necessarily composing the psalms; they were collecting older psalms by David, Moses, the sons of Korah and others into a hymnbook. Some psalms, however, do show signs of being new like Psalms 1 and 2.